Marriott guests participate in turtle protection

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PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico -- The Marriott CasaMagna here set out to help the marine environment by participating in an annual sea turtle program in cooperation with the National Institute of Fisheries.

Each year from May through September, thousands of sea turtles arrive on the resort's beaches to lay their eggs.

Normally the eggs would incubate in the sand until they hatched, but the recreational activities that take place on the beach make it unsafe.

Each night throughout the five-month hatching season, the resort's staff patrols the beach to gather the eggs, which are then transported -- still in their nests to best preserve natural conditions -- off the property for incubation.

By early November, the hatchlings emerge from their eggs, ready to be released at their nesting site at the resort's beach with the help of guests and recreational staff.

"A lot of people, both adults and children, participate in the release," according to Dennis Whitelaw, general manager of the Marriott CasaMagna.

Whitelaw said the program was started to support a federal law protecting the sea turtle as an endangered species.

Since the program's inception in 1987, they are no longer in danger of extinction.

It has become tradition that the children name their tiny sea turtle babies before setting them free to find their way into the water.

Because the vulnerable baby sea turtles face threats to their survival from land predators, the turtles are only released at night.

The Marriott program is an amenity enhancement, according to Whitelaw.

"We invite the guests to meet at the beach at sunset and talk for about 15 minutes about the program. Then participants are given instructions on how to release the turtles," he said, adding that anywhere from 90 to 200 people either watch or participate in the program.

The staff uses this opportunity to educate children about the sea turtles and Mexico's environmental awareness initiatives to save them.

"As a result of our Sea Turtle Release Program, 96% of these eggs will hatch," said Whitelaw. "Prior to this program, only 40% of the eggs would hatch. So we're happy to be doing a real service to aid in the recovery of the sea turtle population."

Whitelaw recently received Marriott's Echo award for promoting ecological and environmental efforts in Mexico.

The Marriott CasaMagna's sea turtle program follows the procedures established by the National Institute of Fisheries and the Fishing & Marine Biology Station of the University of Guadalajara.

Sea turtle season is a good time for families to take advantage of the resort's All-Inclusive Value Vacations.

The packages include accommodations, all meals and beverages, taxes, gratuities and use of the resort's recreational facilities. Up to two children can stay and eat for free when sharing a room with their parents.

Rates start at $224 per night, double. This offer is available now through Dec. 18.

The resort features 433 guest rooms and 29 suites. Facilities include tennis courts, a pool, golf, restaurants, fitness center and the Club de la Casa children's program.

For more information or reservations, call (800) 223-6388 or visit the Web site at www.offshoreresorts.com.

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